Thursday, June 13, 2024

“THE SHALLOW TALE OF A WRITER WHO DECIDED TO WRITE ABOUT A SERIAL KILLER”

THE STORY – In this darkly comedic tale, a struggling writer finds his life taking a bizarre turn when he befriends a retired serial killer who becomes his unlikely marriage counselor and muse. As the writer grapples with his second novel and a crumbling marriage to his disillusioned wife, the former killer reluctantly offers guidance on both matters, leading to a series of twists and turns that blur the lines between reality and fiction.

THE CAST – Steve Buscemi, John Magaro & Britt Lower

THE TEAM – Tolga Karacelik (Director/Writer)

THE RUNNING TIME – 102 Minutes


40,000 BC, Slovenia. A female homo sapien meets the last living male Neanderthal. This is the premise of Keane’s (John Magaro) long-gestating follow-up to his last well-regarded novel. He won’t stop talking about the premise to anyone who will listen, but he still doesn’t have a draft to show his agent (Ward Horton), who’s fed up with him. Things aren’t much better with his girlfriend, Suzie (Britt Lower), who has completely checked out of their relationship. Luckily for Keane, a fan approaches him with a better idea for his next novel: Write about a serial killer. You see, Kollmick (Steve Buscemi) just so happens to be a retired serial killer, and he’s ready to show Keane everything he knows so that he can write the greatest serial killer novel ever written. Against his better judgment but with no other options to save his career and relationship, the weak-willed Keane eventually agrees. What could possibly go wrong?

Turkish filmmaker Tolga Karacelik’s first English-language feature, “The Shallow Tale of a Writer Who Decided to Write about a Serial Killer,” boasts one of the best titles of any film in recent memory and delivers on its killer plot hook. What’s even more impressive is how assured the film is in its completely unique, deadpan tone. While it certainly won’t work for everyone, this black-as-pitch comedy has real personality and plenty of it to spare. The tone is so deadpan that there’s a lot of dead space for a film that gets as wacky as this does, making for an uneven viewing experience. However, much like its perfectly too-long title, the overall effect makes this “Shallow Tale” memorable.

Karacelik’s control over the film’s tone was likely helped by the casting choices. The three leads are all perfectly cast to character, with Magaro’s nebbishy persona, Buscemi’s matter-of-factness, and Lower’s intensity serving as perfect foils for each other. The scenes with all three of them, in which Kollmick poses as a couple’s therapist, thrum with the electricity of three performers thoroughly attuned to what each other is doing. The screenplay throws its best twists into these scenes, as Kollmick inadvertently turns out to be a good therapist, the flip side of using his knowledge of human nature to kidnap his victims, and the skeptical Suzie is shocked to find herself genuinely engaged in the bullshit he feeds her. Keane, meanwhile, watches the two of them in slack-jawed amazement at what is happening. That these scenes are played almost completely straight only adds to their effectiveness, drawing laughs from the dramatic irony of the situation as well as the ridiculousness of the dialogue itself.

It’s easy to undersell how difficult maintaining this tone is, but there’s a reason we don’t see many similarly-toned films.That said, Karacelik’s impeccable tonal balancing act seriously falters when it comes to pacing. At just over 100 minutes, “The Shallow Tale of a Writer Who Decided to Write about a Serial Killer” drags for long stretches, a death knell for anyone who doesn’t vibe with the tone of the humor. These stretches are always punctuated with a big laugh line or shocking turn of events to suck the audience back in, but losing what little momentum the film had to begin with makes for a rough viewing experience. Even allowing for the deadpan silences, the film has trouble fusing its two halves (Kollmick teaching Keane his process as a serial killer, and Keane working through his relationship with Suzie) together in a satisfying way. They finally come together quite entertainingly in the third act, but the journey to get there is full of fits and starts. For those who can get on the film’s comedic wavelength, there’s still plenty to enjoy in the interplay between the characters and the legitimately surprising twists and turns the plot takes, which constantly up the stakes until they reach ludicrous levels near the end. That makes the third act of “The Shallow Tale of a Writer Who Decided to Write about a Serial Killer” even more entertaining than what came before, but getting to that point will be a struggle for some.

THE RECAP

THE GOOD - A superb dose of black comedy with three perfectly-pitched performances from Steve Buscemi, John Magaro, and Britt Lower.

THE BAD - Spends too much time taking fun detours, going down rabbit holes, and focusing too little on the plot, which doesn't satisfy.

THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - None

THE FINAL SCORE - 7/10

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Dan Bayer
Dan Bayer
Performer since birth, tap dancer since the age of 10. Life-long book, film and theatre lover.

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<b>THE GOOD - </b>A superb dose of black comedy with three perfectly-pitched performances from Steve Buscemi, John Magaro, and Britt Lower.<br><br> <b>THE BAD - </b>Spends too much time taking fun detours, going down rabbit holes, and focusing too little on the plot, which doesn't satisfy.<br><br> <b>THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - </b>None<br><br> <b>THE FINAL SCORE - </b>7/10<br><br>"THE SHALLOW TALE OF A WRITER WHO DECIDED TO WRITE ABOUT A SERIAL KILLER"